A colleague is urging fellow Canadian editors to sign a petition demanding that Ohio prevent the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes.
She argues that teaching intelligent design in science classrooms would be equivalent to having English teachers teach "ain't."
She calls instead for teaching science as we teach English, "in its pure form."
I’m not sure that’s the exact analogy. While every high school teacher may know it’s wrong, such prominent scientists as Bacon, Newton, Einstein, and Hawking themselves believe in some sort of “intelligent design” to the universe. So perhaps the devotion to Darwin alone is more like one of “Miss Thistlebottom’s hobgoblins”: like beginning a sentence with “and” or “but,” or ending one with a preposition. Something everyone believes, except, apparently, Shakespeare, Milton, Joyce, and Hemingway.
Now you may say that not everything a scientist believes is science; that intelligent design still belongs in philosophy class, not science class. (Though Einstein apparently did not think so: “God does not throw dice,” he said to dismiss quantum mechanics.)
However, it seems to me that the same argument, to the same extent, could be said to exclude Darwinism from the science class as well: defined as the “doctrine of evolution by natural selection of random mutations.” The concepts “natural” and “random” are surely just as philosophical and difficult to prove or disprove by the scientific method as that of “design.” But remove them, and there is no distinction between Darwinism and Intelligent Design.
In any case, the notion that science has a “purity” that must be maintained by avoiding reference to other subjects in science class is debatable. We do not, after all, avoid mathematics in science classes, although math is a different subject. We do not avoid historical context when reading Shakespeare in English class. We do not avoid issues of semantics and language in philosophy. We do not ignore physics in shop.
In the case of science in particular, the subject is hopelessly intertwined with philosophy. It really makes no sense without awareness of certain philosophical assumptions. Remember, what we now call science would, two hundred years ago, have been called “natural philosophy.” Scientists still aspire to the Ph.D. degree.
I would argue rather that it is a serious weakness in our educational system that we do not teach the philosophy of science in science classes. As one result, we tend to promote “scientism”: a popular notion that the current majority views of science are certain received truth, and sufficient to explain the universe. A sort of substitute religion. Bad science; almost the opposite of the scientific method.
As to the idea that science should not be tampered with by politics: I agree. Yet urging a group composed mostly of English majors to sign a petition demanding government legislate that certain things not be taught in science classrooms seems not quite in the right spirit.